Cobra: Serpent’s Pose

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

While you may not be a big fan of snakes, Bhujangasana, or Cobra pose, is a wonderful heart-opening backbend. Not only does it invigorate your nervous system, but it also helps to align the spinal column and strengthen the back.

In Sanskrit, the word Bhujangasana comes a combination of two words: ‘bhujanga‘ meaning ‘cobra’ and ‘asana‘ meaning ‘posture’. It visually reflects the posture of a cobra that has its hood raised. Often a component of Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), Cobra can provide relief if you’re experiencing back pain, tightness in your shoulders, or upper body soreness. It’s also a great pose for improving posture.

Benefits of Cobra Pose 

Cobra pose stretches the entire upper body and increases spinal flexibility. It strengthens the back muscles as well as those of the wrists, arms and shoulders. Like other backbends, it works to expand the chest. This helps to strengthen the lungs and facilitate deeper breathing which can be therapeutic for those with asthma. At the same time, it stimulates the abdominal organs, improving digesting and toning the uterine muscles.

From an emotional perspective, heart-opening poses like Cobra take an emotional weight off the mind. Heart-opening poses elevate your mood and help reduce anxiety and stress. Particular to Cobra Pose is its ability to help us overcome our fears. While the cobra is generally considered to be a creature that evokes fear, our ability to look past this initial instinct and view fear from a new perspective is key to helping us move past it.

Considerations and Contraindications

While a wonderful pose for strengthening the muscles that support the spine, you may want to skip it or try a standing or seated version if you suffer from one of the following:

  • spinal stenosis
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • injuries to the back, arms or shoulders
  • recent abdominal surgery or during pregnancy

Remember that if you feel any strain on your lower back, lower your torso a bit or release it altogether and rest your forehead on your forearms.

How to Do Cobra Pose

1. Lie on your belly with your feet and legs pointing back and toenails pressing into the floor. Adjust your hands so that your thumbs come in line with your collarbones. Bend your elbows straight back and hug them into your sides.

2. Pause for a moment looking straight down at your mat with your neck in a neutral position. Keep your belly engaged and lower back long. Anchor your pubic bone to the floor. Make sure that your pelvis and legs are firmly rooted into the floor. They act as the anchor that allows your upper body to rise.

3. Inhale to lift your chest off the floor. Only lift your chest and head as far as feels comfortable. Keep your shoulders relaxed and the base of your neck soft. Point your elbows backwards rather than out to the sides, like the legs of a grasshopper. Keep the neck long with your gaze towards the floor. Not only will you avoid neck pain, but it will also force you to engage the back muscles.

4. Exhale to lower your torso and face back to the floor. Move in and out of the pose with your breath a few times before holding for 1-3 breaths. Over time, you can work up to longer holds.

Modifications and Variations

  • While traditionally the legs are held close together, experiment with widening the legs. This will allow more space in the lower back.
  • Another leg variation is to lift one leg as you lift your head and chest. Alternate legs 2-3 times. Then try lifting both legs together. 
  • The arms should serve as support, so try not to press into the hands. Let the back muscles do the work instead. Challenge yourself by lifting your hands about an inch off the floor as you hold the pose.
  • Another way to strengthen the back is to have the arms in goalpost position, palms resting on the floor 8-10 inches on either side of the head. As you lift your chest, lift both arms as well.  
  • If the floor isn’t accessible, try Cobra at the wall. Same principles of arm alignment and engagement of the back muscles apply. 
  • The chair version is great if you spend lots of time sitting at a computer. Sit towards the front of your chair with feet flat on the floor. Reach back to hold the sides of the chair. Then inhale to arch the back, drawing the sternum upward. 

Whether you do Cobra on the mat, in a chair or at the wall, you can strengthen your back muscles for a stronger, more resilient spine. Happy practicing!

Sending light and love,

Beverly